Why did Apple hamstring camera repairs on standard iPhone 12 but leave Pro Max module swappable? asks engineering group

Bug? iFixit muses in teardown of Cupertino's top-tier mobe


The iPhone 12 Pro Max represents the top end of Apple's latest smartphone lineup. This is a tier that historically has differentiated itself not just by its price, but also by its camera, which Cupertino insists can produce shots that rival those taken on professional kit.

A recent teardown from iFixit gives some weight to these shutterbug creds, highlighting a dramatically upsized sensor as well as new image stabilisation tech.

The primary wide-angle camera sensor on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is 12MP. This sounds low compared to the 108MP sensors found on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G and the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro, but more pixels doesn't necessarily translate into better photographs. Physically smaller pixels receive less light, and require technical trickery to improve low-light performance.

Apple has always prioritised fewer, larger pixels, and the primary sensor used this time around is 47 per cent larger than its predecessor. It's massive. With it is a new (for the iPhone) approach at removing the image jitters caused by shaky human hands. Rather than stabilising the lens, Apple opted to surround the sensor with four magnets, which are designed to compensate for external movement.

There are drawbacks to either approach, and "optical image stabilisation (OIS) versus sensor stabilisation" has long been a point of contention in the photography community. We haven't really seen sensor-based stabilisation in the mobile sphere, and one can only assume Apple took this route due to the huge size of the iPhone 12 Pro Max's primary sensor.

iPhone 12 Pro Max teardown by iFixit

Pic courtesy: iFixit

Things get more curious when you look at the camera module itself. This can be swapped between identical phones without any loss of functionality, unlike the module used on the standard iPhone 12 variant, which requires the use of a proprietary Apple cloud tool to reconfigure.

The question then becomes: Why did Apple opt to completely hamstring third-party repairs on the standard iPhone 12, while leaving other models in the lineup – notably the Mini and Pro Max – completely unencumbered?

It's not entirely clear. While Apple will inevitably sell more units of the iPhone 12, the camera module on the Pro Max almost certainly costs more, due to the presence of a larger primary sensor, as well as the inclusion of a telephoto lens and LIDAR scanner. "Let's hope those bugs were just a fluke," iFixit said.

Overall, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is somewhat consistent with its stablemates in terms of repairability, with iFixit giving the device a score of 6/10.

The same compliments and criticisms apply to this device as its siblings. Routine repairs – like screen and battery replacements – are straightforward, and Apple has avoided gunging up the device with hard-to-remove adhesive. However, its all-glass exterior makes this phone worryingly fragile, and any nasty drop will all but demand a full case replacement. ®


Other stories you might like

  • North Korea pulled in $400m in cryptocurrency heists last year – report

    Plus: FIFA 22 players lose their identity and Texas gets phony QR codes

    In brief Thieves operating for the North Korean government made off with almost $400m in digicash last year in a concerted attack to steal and launder as much currency as they could.

    A report from blockchain biz Chainalysis found that attackers were going after investment houses and currency exchanges in a bid to purloin funds and send them back to the Glorious Leader's coffers. They then use mixing software to make masses of micropayments to new wallets, before consolidating them all again into a new account and moving the funds.

    Bitcoin used to be a top target but Ether is now the most stolen currency, say the researchers, accounting for 58 per cent of the funds filched. Bitcoin accounted for just 20 per cent, a fall of more than 50 per cent since 2019 - although part of the reason might be that they are now so valuable people are taking more care with them.

    Continue reading
  • Tesla Full Self-Driving videos prompt California's DMV to rethink policy on accidents

    Plus: AI systems can identify different chess players by their moves and more

    In brief California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s “revisiting” its opinion of whether Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving feature needs more oversight after a series of videos demonstrate how the technology can be dangerous.

    “Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space,” have made the DMV think twice about Tesla, according to a letter sent to California’s Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, and first reported by the LA Times.

    Tesla isn’t required to report the number of crashes to California’s DMV unlike other self-driving car companies like Waymo or Cruise because it operates at lower levels of autonomy and requires human supervision. But that may change after videos like drivers having to take over to avoid accidentally swerving into pedestrians crossing the road or failing to detect a truck in the middle of the road continue circulating.

    Continue reading
  • Alien life on Super-Earth can survive longer than us due to long-lasting protection from cosmic rays

    Laser experiments show their magnetic fields shielding their surfaces from radiation last longer

    Life on Super-Earths may have more time to develop and evolve, thanks to their long-lasting magnetic fields protecting them against harmful cosmic rays, according to new research published in Science.

    Space is a hazardous environment. Streams of charged particles traveling at very close to the speed of light, ejected from stars and distant galaxies, bombard planets. The intense radiation can strip atmospheres and cause oceans on planetary surfaces to dry up over time, leaving them arid and incapable of supporting habitable life. Cosmic rays, however, are deflected away from Earth, however, since it’s shielded by its magnetic field.

    Now, a team of researchers led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) believe that Super-Earths - planets that are more massive than Earth but less than Neptune - may have magnetic fields too. Their defensive bubbles, in fact, are estimated to stay intact for longer than the one around Earth, meaning life on their surfaces will have more time to develop and survive.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022